Kicking Ass and Eating Kale

According to China, 2013 is the Year of the Snake. According to me, 2013 is the Year of Kicking Ass.

Kicking ass, in this instance, is referring to making healthy food and exercise choices. I want to be good to my body and my brain. By “good” I don’t mean always treating myself to the fine and delicious things in life. Well, sometimes that’s what good will mean. Have you had those chewy dark chocolate covered bits of pomegranate? If you have functioning taste buds, it’s hard not to be elbow deep in a giant Costco bag of those. But once the bag is gone (in two days or less) then it’s back to “good” primarily meaning healthy. Fortunately, I’m not new to being in good health, but I am pretty new to spending a lot time thinking about things that will keep me healthy. That, and taking the time to do the healthy things rather than being a lazy sack and always choosing the easy options. Before you stop reading, fearing that this is about to turn obnoxious and preachy, trust that I am fully aware that “newly trying to make healthy choices” doesn’t make me a fitness or nutrition expert. I promise not to be a jerk about this.

That being said, I’m a freakin’ wizard at making kale chips. And recently, I have found myself talking about kale like I discovered it. I am literally writing an entire blog entry about kale right now. So obnoxious.

I didn’t know that a vegetable could be trendy, but kale seems to be what all the kids are into these days. It’s everywhere! Kale recipes popping up all over Facebook, friends bringing kale salads to potlucks, and me becoming obsessed with kale chips. They’re crispy, they’re delicious, and they are so good for you. Seriously, look at kale’s Wikipedia page. Super good for you. If you follow Neena on Facebook, you may have seen that I posted an easy kale chip recipe. Try them! You’ll thank me.

As kale fever seems to be sweeping the nation, I wonder if it’s a coincidence that Pantone has recently announced Emerald Green to be the color of the year for 2013. Who wants to sign my petition to rename it Kale Green? Here’s to 2013 being a fabulous, healthy, ass-kicking, green year!

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Shake It Down, Shake It Down Now

I have something that I would like to talk about. It’s My Issue. Everyone has a whole list of issues that they care about, but there is always one that is the most important. You know the one. It’s the one you wrote essays about in school, the one that always makes you stop and read anything relevant when scanning the internet in the morning, and the one that fires you up the most when you hear people talking about it. Your Issue.

Mine is body image. Specifically, the quest for and creation of positive body image.

Everyone has a body, and a perception and opinion of that body. Men, women, children, teenagers, adults; it is not just a women’s issue. However, there does seem to be a dangerous combination of an overabundance of images and ideals of what women’s bodies should look like, and a widespread vulnerability that lets these images have an influence. How did this start? Why has it continued? How have we as a society let it get to the point where women in photographs are being digitally slimmed down and smoothed out rather than being shown as they are? Technology and the internet may have made unrealistic ideals more readily available, but they certainly didn’t start the problem. It breaks my heart to witness so many of the beautiful women who shop at Neena gaze longingly at a dress or top and say:

“I’ll be back for that when I lose weight.”
“I could never wear that!”
“Do you have anything that will hide my stomach?”
“I hate the way my thighs look.”

STOP IT.

You only have one body. If you resent it, it will still look the same, but you will be miserable. Have you paused to think about why you dislike your “problem area?” Would it still be a problem if you no one told you it was a problem?

LOVE IT.

I had an encounter with a woman recently that started me thinking a lot about My Issue. I was representing Neena at an offsite trunk show, when I was approached by a woman I had never met. She said:

Hi Ronni. You don’t know me, but I have seen your pictures on the Neena Facebook page. I just want to thank you for being curvy and modeling those clothes proudly! I’m not skinny, and I don’t relate to the standard model type. When I see you wearing something, I think, hey I can wear that too!

To say this made my day is an understatement. I was beaming. This is the embodiment of everything I believe in, and to know that it was me who helped this woman have that positive feeling about herself is a cause for more joy than I can put into words. I felt good about myself, she saw that, she felt good about herself. That is what I took away from that conversation more than anything. I embraced being a curvy girl a long time ago. By some standards (not my standards) I might be considered chubby. I prefer voluptuous! Hourglass! Owww she’s a brick…house!

Guess what? I love it.

Guess what else? We need more people bragging about their bodies! It’s not conceited, it’s healthy. I’m healthy. I exercise. I’m strong. I wear clothes that I like, that flatter me both because I like them and because I like how my body looks in them. Not by hiding, by embracing. The styles only meant to flatter those with less body fat? I’m too much woman for that dress to handle! I’ll bust yo’ buttons clean off!

People of the world, and customers of Neena: you may see something you don’t like in the mirror, but we don’t see it. Everyone’s beauty is different, and it’s not all related to inches and numbers. Pause before you criticize your reflection, and offer a compliment instead. Silently, or out loud. I’ll go first!

I like the curve of my torso between ribs and hips. It’s soft.
I like that you can see the muscles in my forearms move when I wiggle my fingers or type.
I like that my hips make their presence known (watch out corner of the table! I’m coming through!)
I like, no, love, that any curvy, busty, short, pale, or hippy woman who comes into Neena will find an understanding friend in me.

Now you try it. You might get some looks. Don’t worry, they’re just admiring the view.

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Spring Fever

Eighty degrees in March, tulips and daffodils come and (nearly) gone already, snow shovels standing idle. It’s not been a typical Wisconsin spring and we have no problem with that. We’re embracing all the fashion fun that comes along with the transition from wintry gray to sunshine-y brights. The list that follows are some of our favorite spring trends (and some Neena tips for working them into your wardrobe).

1. Bright, bold, unapologetic COLOR. This season vibrant colors are everywhere – shoes, denim, handbags, lips, nails, dresses – and you can’t go wrong if you go bright. If you typically dress in neutrals and are hesitant to splurge on a pair of tangerine designer jeans, you can still work in the brights. At Neena, you can grab a few brightly colored Tees by Tina tanks, invest in a standout Harvey’s handbag or find vibrant lightweight scarf (we’ll show you all the ways to wear it through the summer). Add a little fuschia to your toes and some colorful inexpensive accessories and you can work the trend your way (and on your budget).

2. Airy, lightweight knits. We love summer-weight sweaters! Boxy cardigans over cami dresses and chunky (but oh-so-airy) sweaters casually paired with rolled denim, shorts or skirts are easy, fun and flattering on all different body-types. Slim-fitting knits make beautifully draped dresses and tops for work or evening and can transition well into fall. Our favorite arrivals thus far in this category are by GG Collective and Fluxus.

3. Washable silks. Summer silks are stunning. So wearable, so classically summer and so very comfortable! Their rich texture gets better with each wash. We are loving them in crisp white and soft pastels paired with light-washed denim for a relaxed, beach-y style. Most of our Fluxus deliveries this spring and summer have multiple silk styles.

4. Pastels as neutrals. As much as the vibrant hues are taking center stage this season, pastels are not to be dismissed. We like them best in tees, denim and the washable silks (see #3). We’re also loving pastels as nail colors – especially mint green, robin’s egg blue and lilac. Paired with basic black, they read as a pop color, but with light earth tones like taupe and ivory, they look soft, neutral and elegant. I am so very excited to wear a lilac silk top with rolled white denim jeans and nude patent pumps (or sandals)! Swipe of sheer lip gloss and simple silver or crystal jewelry by JUST THE 2 OF US and I have my new summer uniform. With a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, please.

5. Hi-low hemlines. This one – short in the front and long in the back (but please don’t think mullet!) – is sticking around and we are loving seeing it in everything from relaxed burnout tees to elegant dresses. It adds visual interest and is universally flattering (and especially convenient when, like us, you practically live in leggings!). The tops are perfect paired with the Neena Basic Slip Dress by Fluxus or Maxi Tank by Second Base.

6. Seamless. It’s amazing how a little thing like a seam can be so irritating! We are so grateful to fitness brands like Nux and Electric Yoga who have embraced the concept of seamless designs! Once you work out or practice in seamless, it’s hard to wear anything else! We’re hoping other brands follow suit. P.S. Can you imagine Beyond Yoga’s peached supplex fabric in a seamless design?! I would never wear anything else ever again for as long as I live forever.

7. Fitness-lifestyle crossover styles. This is pretty much a no-brainer for Neena; our entire store was built on this concept. However, we’re seeing a huge increase and improvement in the crossover styles, especially the spring and summer collections from Beyond Yoga, alo, Zobha and Lucy. It’s so refreshing to see collections that feature pieces that truly perform as well as those that are suitable for everyday wear. Best of all, lines are really working these two concepts together in their collections so you can go from day to night without a major wardrobe change. Which is how we live so thank you, designers, for jumping on board.

8. Maxi dresses and skirts. This trend is still going strong and who are we to argue? We love the incredibly comfortable yet instantly elegant look of the maxi. The upscale tee gurus at Bella Luxx have gone on a maxi design spree this season and we are happy to take advantage of their enthusiasm for the trend. Contrary to what many think, the maxi length is truly for everyone (though you may need the help of our seamstress to get it just right). Really, it is a look that is flattering on all heights and body types. The key is pairing it with the right top for your body so the length of the dress/skirt balances. C’mon in; we’ll show you what we mean.

And there you have it! Take a look at our just released Spring Lookbook below to see a few of these trends come to life on our beautiful models, mother-daughter duo Kari Woodall of Woodall Training and Judi Haag.

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Ode to the Neena Woman

You’re going to think I’m being a suck up. That may be unavoidable, but I swear that’s not my intention. This is merely a series of genuine observations, and a positive reaction to those observations. Seriously.

Ask almost anyone their thoughts about working in retail, and a common response would be to shudder, groan, or run away crying. Retail often leads one to believe that people are awful. Whether you’ve worked in retail or not, you’ve certainly been a customer at some point. You’ve seen the person in front of you trying to return the top she bought two years ago, or the pants that have clearly been worn, dirtied, and washed. You’ve likely seen a terrified employee shaking in their boots while a customer rips their head off for a reason beyond their control. I recall being sixteen years old and having to re-scoop ice cream for a customer who felt that the scoop I had just handed them did not live up to their ice cream scoop ideal. It was phrased a little harsher than that, though. Sometimes, people are just the worst.

But not here. Seriously.

I don’t know if it’s the charming atmosphere of downtown Middleton that puts everyone in a good mood, or if our light purple walls just soothe the soul, but our customers are just really nice. This being our first year, there has definitely been a learning curve for us. We have (inadvertently) presented customers with opportunities to point out mistakes. But as a whole, we deal with kind, patient, friendly women everyday. As has been mentioned in previous blog entries, we have run into some inconvenient technological hiccups. The most common response from the woman waiting at the register is “Oh, that’s okay.” Even an exasperated sigh and forced smile would be completely acceptable in the situation, but the sighs are often silent and the smiles genuine. It’s just crazy. We quickly gained a loyal following of customers who have turned into friends, and essentially into family. Customers who hug us. Customers who tell us the details of their recent vacations. Even first time shoppers, far more often than not, are friendly and warm. People hang the clothes back on hangers after trying them on, and offer to put them back out on the sales floor. You don’t have to do that! You’re our guest! Thank you, really, but we will do it for you! I can barely recall any instances of walking into the fitting room after a customer leaves and finding piles on the floor. The Neena woman is thoughtful, considerate, and respectful of our merchandise. Whatever is causing this beautiful epidemic, I hope it doesn’t end.

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BodyFit Solutions

Now that the door to fitness has been opened in my life, I am able to start taking advantage of all the different opportunities available in this town. As Middleton grows and thrives due to the addition of new businesses, these opportunities are only expanding. Enter our new neighbor, BodyFit Solutions.

BodyFit Solutions is a personal training studio for women, by women. Owner Laura Schuch is sweet and supportive, and wanted to create a safe and comfortable place for women to come and exercise. I had never had a personal training session before, but this new business right down the street felt like a good place to start. And since I was FORCED to pick out a cute new workout outfit from Neena, I started there. It would have been disrespectful to BodyFit Solutions to show up looking like slob. Since I’m not rude, I chose the Beyond Teardrop Cami in heather gray, the Beyond Ruched Leggings in Blackberry, and a black sparkly Sticky Band. I did it for BodyFit.

I showed up for my session and Laura greeted me at the door. Unlike working out at a gym, the first thing we did was sit down for a comprehensive conversation about my goals, health, strengths, and weaknesses. Laura really listened to what I said, and we had a true conversation instead of filling out a questionnaire. She was completely nonjudgemental, and genuinely interested in creating the best experience possible for me.

We began with a cardio warmup of my choice. Don’t be fooled by my recent participation in a 10k–I will still choose “not running” if given the choice. Elliptical it was! Laura and I chatted as I increased my speed and heart rate, getting ready for my workout. As we moved through each exercise, Laura was focused on me and how I was doing. She listened to me when I said during our initial conversation that I respond best to smiles, high fives, and positive reenforcement, so I was met with many verbal pats on the back. Don’t you love being told how great you’re doing? I do. This does not mean she took it easy on me. She pushed me kindly, but she still pushed me until my quads were shaking from the lunges and my arms and core were Jell-o from doing pushups with my feet up on a balance ball. Even though there was a photographer present to capture some promotional shots for the studio, there was nothing fake about the workout. I am definitely looking a little sweaty and strained in some of those shots.

I left BodyFit Solutions with a clear understanding of Laura’s vision. The studio is warm and welcoming, the equipment is new and clean, and the atmosphere is happy and supportive. Every woman, regardless of age, fitness level, or long term goals can benefit from the attentive training at BodyFit Solutions. I had a productive workout and felt great about it.

So great, in fact, that Neena is officially partnering with BodyFit Solutions. We want our customers to look and feel great in their clothes, so all BodyFit Solutions clients will receive 10% off of their purchases at Neena! That is how strongly we believe in Laura and the rest of the BodyFit training staff. Own your health and fitness, and let BodyFit Solutions guide and support you through each lunge, crunch, and accomplishment.

www.bodyfitsolutions.com

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It’s official . . . October 9 is a good day.

What an incredible response! Thank you to everyone who participated in our little contest by submitting an answer (or two or three or more) to the question: Why is October 9, 2010 a significant date on the Neena calendar?

We couldn’t possibly keep all the answers to ourselves. So below is the complete list of responses we received by email, on Facebook and online. You’ll see that seven clever ladies responded correctly. October 9, 2010 was in fact the day that the online LLC registration was submitted, establishing Neena as a legal entity.

Thank you all!

And here are your responses, in no particular order:

The idea for Neena happened on this day while Deneen was drinking wine at a sidewalk table at Villa Dolce Cafe. The afternoon sun hit the building across the street at just the right angle, illuminating a vacant storefront in the historic Opera House building. “What a great spot, Carmichael thought.”

That was when the idea for opening Neena was conceived while enjoying a glass of wine at Villa Dolce Cafe right across the street !

Without doing any sleuthing…..would that happen to be the date that Deneen was downtown Middleton having lunch or possibly a glass of wine…..looked over at that barren building and thought – this would be a great place to have a shop!?? Love your store, the clothing and staff are both equally fabulous!

Could it be your one year anniversary of the IDEA for your wonderful store?

Is that when you conceived the idea?

That is the day Deneen decided she wanted to open up the shop (when she saw the building while sitting outside at Villa Dolce)!

It’s the day when Neena became an “idea” and started turning into a reality.

“The idea for Neena began in the fall of 2010. It happened in a single moment one October afternoon when owner Deneen Carmichael was enjoying a glass of wine at a sidewalk table at Villa Dolce Cafe. The afternoon sun hit the building across the street illuminating a vacant storefront in the historic Opera House building.” (from shopneena.com)

It was the day Deneen completed and submitted the online LLC registration form for Neena. It’s like Neena’s birthday!

Serendipity: when someone finds something that they weren’t expecting to find. It means “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”. I loved reading about how the idea for Neena struck while having a glass of wine at Villa Dolce. I had a similar experience when buying our house 2 years ago (just blocks from Neena, by the way). What a great spot, indeed!

Date when the idea of opening the shop occurred to owner Deneen!

It was the day when Deneen was enjoying a glass of wine at a sidewalk table at Villa Dolce Cafe and saw the spot that is now NEENA!

October 9, 2010 was the day that Deneen was noshing at Villa Dolce and had a spark of an idea!!! Neena was born!!!

Deneen was enjoying a glass of wine at Villa Dolce Cafe in Middleton when she noticed a vacant storefront the historic Opera house and thought it would be the perfect place for a store like Neena!
Neena’s birthday!

Must be grand opening date for Neena. FYI: I used to sit at Villa and watch you all paint into the wee hours of the night. You had, like, spotlights and I always wondered how you could paint without more lighting. It was fun to watch you put it together– finally you opened! Congratulations on your first year!

It’s one year since Deneen’s moment of inspiration – the day she noticed the empty Opera House and decided to open the store!

It’s the day Deneen had her moment of inspiration – while enjoying a glass of wine at Villa Dolce, she noticed the empty Opera House storefront, saw what a beautiful location it was, and decided to pursue it as a place to open the store she’d been dreaming about!

It’s the date that Neena found a home! Deneen was enjoying a glass of wine at a sidewalk table at Villa Dolce Cafe. The afternoon sun hit the building across the street, illuminating a vacant storefront in the historic Opera House building. Maybe it was the date Neena was conceived?! Either way, I am so happy Neena is here! Best service & staff!

You were sitting outside Barrique’s coffee shop completing your online LLC registration form.

When the idea for ‘Neena’ was hatched.

The day you signed the lease for your space.

While sipping wine at Villa Dolce, Carmichael thought to her sun warmed self, laungishedly gazing across the street to the vacant opera building, ‘What a great spot for a business’.

It was on Oct 9,2010 in the afternoon, that the “light bulb” … or more specifically sun lit illuminated moment occurred to Deneen. This was the unexpected beginning of the creation of Neena.

It is the day the Neena idea was born?! I love the store and am so happy to have discovered it!

You beat out lululemon for your location in Middleton.

It was the day that Deneen saw the building in the sunlight and decided to rent the space for Neena.

Owner Deneen Carmichael was enjoying a glass of wine at a sidewalk table at Villa Dolce Cafe on Parmenter St in downtown Middleton when the afternoon sun hit the building across the street at just the right angle, and the idea for Neena was born!

It was the GRAND OPENING of ONE MAGNIFICENT STORE, located in Middleton and that store would be….Neena! Thanks for coming to Middleton!

October 9th, 2010 is when Deneen got the idea for Neena when she was having a glass of wine outside Villa Dolce Cafe on Parmenter Street and thought it was a great spot.

Neena opened for business October 9th 2010.

It’s the day you signed the lease on the space?

That was the day that Deneen spotted the vacant building that is now the home of Neena. I love the idea of having a glass of wine at a table outside at Villa Dolce with the afternoon sun hitting the vacant building. In fact, I love the idea of having a glass of wine in the afternoon! It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, isn’t it? Love your store!

Making a guess…city approves building permit.

“Deneen Carmichael was enjoying a glass of wine at a sidewalk table at Villa Dolce Cafe…” and saw the building across the street. “What a great spot” she thought for an amazing clothing store. The End.

The idea for Neena began unexpectedly in the fall of 2010. It happened in a single moment one October afternoon when owner Deneen Carmichael was enjoying a glass of wine at a sidewalk table at Villa Dolce Cafe on Parmenter St in downtown Middleton, Wisconsin. The afternoon sun hit the building across the street at just the right angle, illuminating . . .”

Because it’s when Deneen and Ronni hit the “Submit” button on the online LLC registration form at Barrique’s with Deneen’s MacBook and officially declared Neena to begin! (I love your blog!)

Isn’t October 9, 2010 the day Neena came into our lives? You opened your doors then! Thanks for the great contest!

The moment a great “a ha” was born. Thanks to the sun, a good glass of wine and a brilliant creative mind. The store is a great gift to our area. Such a treat to find something for me not my teenager or grandmother. Thanks and I hope the fun, great ideas and of course the wine keep going.

Is it the day you decided to get the space for your amazing, gorgeous, wonderful store.

The day an offer was accepted on the building that became Neena.

The idea for Neena began on October 9, 2010. Deneen Carmichael was having a glass of wine at a sidewalk table at Villa Dolce Cafe in downtown Middleton. The afternoon sun hit the empty store front in the historic building across the street and then in January of 2011 Neena shop opened its doors!

One year anniversary!

It is your 1 year anniversary!

That is when Neena opened in Middleton!

The day the lease was signed on the building for the Neena store.

After pulling an “all-nighter”, painting in the dark, merchandising, rushing around so all is perfect. All changed clothes, put on a big smile, your best greeting, and opened the doors for business! It was the best day to all who worked hard to make this happen. Time to celebrate with a toast and home for a good nights sleep. OPEN 1 yr, CONGRATS!

Oct 9th is day the idea for Neena was conceived!

It is your 1 year anniversary

One year anniversary

The Neena idea was born!

“The idea for Neena began [October 9, 2010]. It happened unexpectedly when owner Deneen Carmichael was enjoying a glass of wine at a sidewalk table at Villa Dolce Cafe. The afternoon sun hit the building across the street at just the right angle, illuminating a vacant storefront in the historic Opera House building. What a great spot, Carmichael thought.” (from www.shopneena.com)

It was a beautiful fall afternoon on October 9, 2010, when Deneen Carmichael enjoyed a glass of delightful wine at a sidewalk table at Villa Dolce cafe downtown Middleton, WI, and when the afternoon sun hit the building across the street, showing the vacant storefront area, an idea came to her. Neena was born – apparel for movement.

It was date that the idea for the Neena store was born…..

It is when the idea of Neena was birthed!

Anniversary of Neena opening

It was the day that the owner got the idea to open the store.

“Owner Deneen Carmichael was enjoying a glass of wine at a sidewalk table at Villa Dolce Cafe on Parmenter St in Middleton, WI. The afternoon sun hit the building across the street, illuminating a vacant storefront in the historic Opera House building. What a great spot, she thought.” 3 mos. later the Neena opened. (from www.shopneena.com)

October 9, 2010 was a nice fall day. Deneen was sitting at Villa Dolce at an outside table enjoying a glass of wine & the wonderful warmth & colors of the fall day. She noticed that the store front in the historic building across the street was available & thought it was a wonderful space. A few short months later in Jan 2011 Neena shop opened.

Ummm… were you sitting at the Barriques filling out the online registration form for an LLC? I hope so!!!!!! I (heart) Neena!

The idea for Neena:It happened in a single moment one October afternoon when Deneen was enjoying a glass of wine at a sidewalk table at Villa Dolce Cafe on Parmenter St in downtown Middleton, Wisconsin. The sun hit the building across the street at just the right angle, illuminating a vacant storefront in the historic Opera House building. (from www.shopneena.com)

October 9th is the date that a wonderful store to house my new skin opened. Looking like a troll while working out is now in the past. Comfort, ease, beauty…a new skin.

It’s Neena’s fabulous anniversary!

Its your anniversary.

This is the day my favorite store opened.

Because the date celebrates a one year anniversary that neena came into Middleton and left its marks and beautiful clothing and also made me happy because she can stop in and see Deneen and Ronni whenever she likes and those are her two favorite people

The Nature Of Creation could be witnessed October 9th 2010, in Middleton, Wisconsin, if you were sitting next to Deneen Carmichael at Villa Dolce Café.  It was bound to happen, all the elements were there to create the perfect energetic expression through Deneen Carmichael that day.

It was magical in a sense. There she was sitting in a place of community, a community bursting with creativity and history all around her. Enjoying the peaceful surroundings, and a glass of wine on a beautiful fall day. As she sat there taking in all the wonders of life, she couldn’t help but visualize her dream of women’s apparel for women who express themselves through creative movement. Clothing that fits a woman’s needs to be comfortable, beautiful, simple and functional. It was then that the sun’s ray caught her eye as it danced across a vacant store front in the historic Opera House. In that moment it was as though her dream materialized in front of her. Her vision was realized.  Her offerings and creativity have been inspiring countless women this last year to reinvent and reactivate ourselves through movement, beauty and ease. Thank you for sharing, Deneen Carmichael!

The day that you and your team applied online to become incorporated as a business and get the LLC?

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Maybe She’s Born With It…

Everyone has their things. Our quirks, idiosyncrasies, and habits are what make us each unique. Some are stranger than others, and some are more productive. I descend from the Idiosyncratic Royal Family, and I know a doozie of a quirk when I see one. And I got one. Ready?

I draw power from red lipstick.

It started in about 4th grade, when makeup started going from Mom’s weird face paint to I-am-starting-to-appreciate-the-glamorous-aspects-of-playing-dress-up. I would put red lipstick on while I did my math worksheets or my assigned minutes of silent reading. I wasn’t pretending to be a movie star learning about multiplication, and I never attempted to wear the lipstick out of the house or even during the day. It was just occasionally, when I felt like I needed a little boost to help me concentrate on my homework. And judging by the way I totally impressed my fifth grade classmates by knowing how to spell “rhododendron,” I think you’ll agree that it worked.

My secret source of power became less easily hidden when it came time to write long papers in a crowded dorm. Sitting on my awkwardly rocking college-issue desk chair in flannel pants with ruby lips, friends would knock on my door, peek in and say, “Oh, sorry Ron, I didn’t know you were writing a paper.” The red lips became known and respected. They helped me succeed in college more than any study group, quiet library room or respectable amount of sleep ever could have. Time to go out to a party? Any pinkish gloss will do. Time to go to the dining hall? You’re lucky I’m even wearing pants. Time to expand on my thoughts about what a misogynist John Milton was based on his representation of Eve in Paradise Lost? Perfectly painted red lips, not a smear in sight.

This brings us to present day. As in any life worth living, the past few years have brought exciting new challenges to mine. There was a move to Wisconsin, painting and spackling Neena into existence, and most recently, TRX. If you will refer to a prior blog entry in which I described my introduction to TRX, you will see why I consider it a “challenge.” As the entry does not explain, I survived my 6 week Intro Boot Camp, and have actually continued to attend TRX classes. No matter how many classes you take, sit ups you do, or cookies you avoid, these classes will kick your butt. Kick. Your. Butt. I always skip on over to class in my cute little Neena workout gear, sippin’ on my water bottle, ready to go. I leave class a sweaty broken shell of a woman, dragging my water bottle like it weighs 500 pounds. Yesterday, as I prepared to leave for TRX class straight from Neena (wearing the black and amethyst Alo Speed Capri) I realized I hadn’t removed the red lipstick that I’d worn that day. Not wanting to take the time to do a thorough scrubbing job, and not wanting to do a quick smeared removal and end up looking like a murdered prostitute from Law & Order: SVU, I left my lipstick on in all its glory. And do you know what happened?

I. Kicked. Butt.

I had a fantastic workout. I worked hard, I did all the reps I was supposed to, and held my planks for as many seconds as the more seasoned TRX’ers did. I left class feeling strong, empowered, beautiful, and so, SO sweaty. My next challenge will be to run (and walk a lot of) the Haunted Hustle 10k the weekend before Halloween. I will be the one near the back of the pack, smiling and looking a little fancy.

And before anyone has the chance to post a comment containing the question, yes, I am writing this entry wearing jammies and Maybelline Very Cherry.

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You see, we move people to poetry

Some clothing stores are tickled when they receive and special call or note or Facebook post from a satisfied and grateful customer. And so are we. Absolutely. But c’mon, when a loyal and devoted shopper crafts a work of art – pure poetry, as it were – we kinda admit to ourselves that maybe, just maybe, we’re doing something right. So here it is, the anonymously penned ‘Ode to Neena,’ which we received last night. Enjoy.

 

Ode to Neena

I’m not at Peace, I am at War
I’ve just returned from Neena’s store

One look inside my purple tissue
I GASP! Oh, My! I have an issue

The clothes sold there just jumped at me
And now they’re piled up to my knee

I’m not at Peace, I am at War
I see my closet has room no more

One thinks a closet that’s named ‘walk-in’
Should have more room to put clothes in

It’s unacceptable, I’ve reached the crux
I must display my Bella Luxx

And lest you read and think me shallow
You’ve clearly never sported Alo

Eek! Still in my bag hidden in between ‘ems
I’ll not abandon you, my Tinas

One more place I’ll try, my dresser
My Neenas deserve not any lesser

Ah ha! That’s it! I’ll fret no more
I’ll simply make a Neena drawer

Out with the old
To the garbage, Tar-jay
You’re all stretched out, you cannot stay

Oh lovely garnet, amethyst, and black
I’m putting you in, but in the morn I’ll be back

I am at Peace, no longer at War
Alas, une chambre pour Neena Couture

~ Anonymous

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When Life Gives You Lemon Gelato…Wait, No, That Sounds Awesome. Yes, Please, Life!

I am an optimist. I live on the bright side. If I were a comic book character, you would see bubbles, rainbows, and lollipops drawn around my head. I like to keep a smile on my face, a bounce in my step, and the attitude that things will generally work themselves out.

However, sometimes lots of things go horribly, horribly wrong at the same time.

I had a week like that last week. It all started with a complete technological apocalypse within the unsuspecting walls of Neena. At first it was a spotty internet connection. Okay, no big deal, I’ll just turn the airport off and on, whatever. Then, our point of sale system decided to tell us that a customer’s credit card was rejected. This poor woman, in a panic, begins to defend the integrity of her credit card. We tried punching in the number instead of swiping it. NOT ACCEPTED. So, we resorted to Plan B: the backup credit card machine that hides in the office and makes uncomfortably loud beeping sounds. Beeping sounds that test the very limits of your humanity when you swipe a card that is set to expire in 2014 and the little machine reads CARD EXPIRED. Seriously? You little beeping jerk. Plan C, the part that occurs just before we need to go into the control room and turn two keys at the same time, is to write down all of the customer’s information so that we can send her on her way instead of making her stand around watching us be defeated by machines.

Seeing that Neena is still a relatively new business, my job description as manager has been something of a work in progress. Something that found its way onto the list of responsibilities early on is making long and frustrating phone calls to troubleshoot technological problems. After the credit card crisis, I knew that I had two of those calls to make. One call to the point of sale people, and one to the credit card processing people. I picked up the phone, and my staff gave me solemn looks and gentle nods like a soldier going off to battle. I will not bore you with the details of these conversations, but suffice to say that one issue was addressed with “hmm, that’s weird” and the other was addressed by telling the little beeping jerk that no, honey, it is not actually the year 2020. Her credit card is not six years past expired.

After the phone calls, Deneen did the next round of troubleshooting by telling the staff that she was taking their twitchy broken-spirited manager across the street for some fresh air and gelato.

The technology at the store was behaving itself again and everything was happy and fine and bubbles and rainbows again OH WAIT MY AIR CONDITIONING BROKE WHEN IT WAS 95 DEGREES OUTSIDE.

For a week. The hottest week of July. The late night on-call maintenance dude at my apartment complex temporarily solved this by installing a window A/C unit in my bedroom that blasted icy air at my face and poured water out of the bottom so aggressively that I’m really quite proud that I didn’t wet the bed in my sleep. Oh, and the gap in the window that existed from not being a window made to house an air conditioner was covered with flattened cardboard boxes and green duct tape. To go with the new theme, I began to park my car on the front lawn and point a shotgun at passers by.

At this point, I propose a Neena Essay Contest. The subject of your essay should be the description of how you imagine it went when the office told me we were not in fact allowed to have the temporary unit in the window, and I removed it (keep in mind the weight of such a unit and the dripping water) and replaced the screen myself. Please submit your essays to ronni@shopneena.com

After a very warm week, the air conditioning was fixed. When I was not at home. To remove the obstacles in my closet which blocked the access to the parts that needed fixing. Therefore, I arrived home to the contents of my closet dumped all over my bed and bedroom. The temperature was pretty nice though.

And finally, to cap off the week, I was called “sir” in an email. By someone who I have actually met in person before.

Weeks like these are the ultimate challenge to an optimist. A series of irritating issues swarming around like mosquitoes, trying to cover you in itchy pessimistic welts. Not this time, universe! I work at the coolest store in the world, I have the best staff, friends and family in the solar system, and gelato is always just a crosswalk away. And I’m moving to a new apartment in two weeks.

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Rock on and love your mama.

Tonight I ventured over to the Middleton Fire Station and spent 45-minutes sweating. Punching the air, kicking the air, jumping in the air. Basically doing anything that deprived my lungs of air. I did it with some very fit women around my own age, one brave guy . . . and a 69 year-old woman. Who wasn’t even really breathing hard while my eyes were about the size of the dinner plate of my fantasies, my lungs begged for mercy and my legs threatened to disjoin from my body and walk home on their own.

Judi Haag is a rockstar. And I don’t bestow that title on many. Tonight she joined me and about a dozen other souls for a Monday night bonus class at Woodall Training (which is usually the source of my TRX pain/joy). One daughter, Kari Woodall, owns a successful and intense TRX training facility here in Middleton. Another daughter, Trina Gray, is the owner of Bay Athletic Club in Alpena, Michigan. Two incredible daughters who are among the superfit and who have made it their life’s work to inspire and motivate others to do the same. Clearly, Judi set the standard and set the example.

I met Judi two weekends ago at her daughter’s client appreciation party. Luckily, I’m a client and got invited and went and had a fantastic time (there was dancing involved). I knew she was “Mom” before I was introduced. Judi has eyes that genuinely sparkle. Her smile is sincere. She looks right at you when she talks to you, interested and friendly. Her conversation is animated and real. She’s not a small-talker. She’s one of those people you just want to be around because she makes you feel like you are funny and interesting and . . . that you matter. You’re worth her time. Isn’t that how moms are supposed to make their kids feel? But Judi not only does that with her kids, she does that with everyone.

Did I mention that she is a rockstar?

I’m not joking. Physically, she is a powerhouse. You wouldn’t necessarily know it because her physique, while solid and toned, is also soft and elegant. But don’t be fooled: Judi will kick your a$! in a plank contest any day and twice on Sunday. In class tonight, she punched and kicked and sweated it out like it was a warmup.

Judi has also toughed out the rigorous challenge of breast cancer, which requires a mental fortitude I just can’t fathom. Looking at her healthy glow, strong body and sensational smile, you’d never know that she’s looked cancer straight in the eye and said: “Bring it.”

We all need role models, no matter how old we are. As women, we are daughters and we connect with mothers who are living the way we hope we will be when we are 50, 60, 70 and beyond. When I see Judi stepping up and taking it all on – Turbo Kick class to cancer – with grace and strength and a smile . . . I only hope I can be a fraction of that kind of role model for my own daughter.

Rock on, Judi.

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